A super PAC supporting Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., has released the results of a poll indicating his Republican primary-election challenger would have only a 50-50 chance of winning the general election.
Indiana Values SuperPAC said Thursday that a survey taken of 500 registered voters shows Lugar was favored by 58 percent of respondents in a contest against the presumptive Democratic candidate, Rep. Joe Donnelly, D-2nd. Donnelly was favored by 32 percent, and 10 percent of respondents were undecided.
The poll shows a tie – at 42 percent each, with 16 percent undecided – if Donnelly faces state Treasurer Richard Mourdock, who is running against Lugar in the Republican primary.
The statewide poll was conducted Dec. 13 to 15 by Public Opinion Strategies, a Republican polling firm based in Alexandria, Va. The survey has a margin of error of 4.38 percent, according to Indiana Values SuperPAC of Washington, D.C.
“We say, look, if Sen. Lugar is the (Republican) candidate, he wins walking away” against Donnelly, said Andy Klingenstein, treasurer of the political action committee and a Lugar aide in the early 1980s. “If, on the other hand, Mourdock squeaks by in the primary, it’s messy. It’s going to be a battle. We’re not saying he definitely won’t win, but it’s messy.”
Mourdock spokesman Christopher Conner and Ben Ray, press secretary for the Indiana Democratic Party, each said the survey was likely a biased “push poll” in which respondents are asked questions designed to elicit certain answers.
The poll “reeks of desperation by his campaign,” Connor said about Lugar, a senator since 1977.
Ray said: “In our own (polling) numbers … Sen. Lugar is stuck in the mid-40s, and he’s unable to get out. The thought that he is at 58 (percent) in the general election, without loading voters up before asking that question, is a fallacy to me.”
Ray wondered how Indiana Values SuperPAC, which filed a statement of organization Jan. 5 with the Federal Election Commission, could have paid for a poll that was taken in December.
“We incorporated in December,” Klingenstein said. “We were in place before the survey.”
The statement of organization carries a Dec. 21 date, which is later than the poll.
Super PACs are allowed to raise and spend unlimited sums of money, given anonymously, to elect or defeat candidates. By law, the organizations must operate independently of candidates and cannot coordinate with candidate campaigns.
Mourdock has been endorsed by several conservative tea party organizations. But the Indiana Values SuperPAC poll indicates that the same number of people – 72 percent – who call themselves tea party supporters would vote for either Mourdock or Lugar in the general election.
“I do not believe the tea party people who would be voting for us in the primary would turn around and vote for Dick Lugar in the general election,” Conner said.
The poll shows Lugar attracts 57 percent of independent voters in a race with Donnelly, while Mourdock draws 32 percent against the Democrat. And Lugar receives 21 percent of Democratic voters, compared with Mourdock’s 5 percent. Donnelly gets 71 percent and 82 percent, respectively.
“To me, the numbers say Sen. Lugar has strong support everywhere,” Klingenstein said. “In the general election, he’s the overwhelming favorite.”
Lugar received a 55 percent favorability rating from voters, compared with Donnelly’s 13 percent and Mourdock’s 10 percent. But Lugar also had the highest unfavorable response, 21 percent, followed by Mourdock’s 19 percent and Donnelly’s 10 percent.
Ray questioned why the super PAC did not commission a poll of the two foes in the GOP primary election, then answered his own question: Lugar “is in deep, deep trouble in his primary,” Ray said.
Klingenstein said: “We’re going out to raise money, and we wanted a vehicle to see how (Lugar and Mourdock) did head-to-head with Donnelly, and it shows Lugar does much better. That was an important finding for us.”